Biblical Archaeology Review 39:1, January/February 2013

ReViews: The Moral of the Story

Parables of the Sages: Jewish Wisdom from Jesus to Rav Ashi

By R. Steven Notley and Ze’ev Safrai (Jerusalem: Carta, 2011), xii + 388 pp., $84 (hardcover)

The parables of Jesus are well known, but they are not isolated or unrelated to other literature. They indeed belong to a Jewish genre, of which we find many examples in rabbinic literature. As the authors state, “The background for the parables of the New Testament is to be found in the world of Israel’s sages.”

This book provides an annotated collection of 417 parables from the earliest stratum of these rabbinic traditions, known as the period of the Tannaim. Notley and Saffrai give the original Hebrew, an English translation and notes that consider the historical, social and religious aspects of the individual entries, and their contribution to our understanding of the parables of Jesus.

Although written for the general reader, the work also includes all of the scholarly context—a detailed 70-page introduction, a discussion of the sources, short biographies of the sages, a bibliography and indexes.

These Jewish parables are not well known for two main reasons: First, they were published in rabbinic circles well after the New Testament. Second, they are not always easy to understand.

Our authors begin with a definition: A parable is a narrative taken from reality, albeit with some distortions, but without visions or miracles; it has a moral, normally overt; it is introduced by a statement that identifies it as a parable.

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